BELMONT, Mass. — For the first time, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) held its gala virtually due to the ongoing pandemic and restrictions on gatherings in the country and in Massachusetts in particular.
The venerable institution, which since the 1950s has helped found many of the Armenian studies professorial chairs at universities around the US — starting with Harvard — was slated to celebrate the legacies of legendary public intellectual Dr. Vartan Gregorian and philanthropist Edward Avedisian this year. The theme of this year was “Building for Eternity,” in reference to the construction of the organization’s new headquarters, plans for the future, and the symbol of Armenian culture, the “eternity sign,” a representation of which there is in front of the building in the form of a Michael Aram creation.
Avedisian is the primary benefactor of the new NAASR headquarters. When it was suggested by NAASR Board Chair Yervant Chekijian that the building be named after him, Avedisian replied “Who am I? The building should be named for a scholar, like Vartan Gregorian.”
Gregorian had accepted the honor, as well as the invitation to speak at this year’s event, before his untimely passing.
The gala, like so many other events of the past year, was held “virtually” — that is, it was livestreamed as a Zoom meeting to a group of viewers who signed up beforehand. The program consisted of speeches, video footage of the new building, and montages of past NAASR events and of the lives of Avedisian and Gregorian. A fundraising pitch was given throughout the hour-long program, giving it the feel of a telethon.
Moderna CEO Noubar Afeyan paid tribute to Gregorian. Afeyan, who had worked with Gregorian on numerous Armenian causes, including the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative which they cofounded with Ruben Vardanyan — spoke glowingly of his longtime friend. Gregorian’s unique makeup was the product of the multiplication — not merely the addition — of wisdom, compassion, curiosity, and devotion, Afeyan opined.